Tempted to get a soundbar? This TV audio upgrade goes one step beyond
The soundbar market is making quite a noise these days. The compact convenience of these sonic slivers has proved a big hit with telly addicts eager to compensate for the rubbish audio offered by most superslim TVs. The latest maker to sound off with one is specialty hi-fi outfit SpeakerCraft, better known for its high-performance in-wall architectural loudspeakers. Only the brand’s CS3 isn’t exactly a sound bar, it’s more an audio pedestal.
In many ways, the CS3 is even easier to accommodate than a standard ‘bar. Your flatscreen is simply parked on top. Not all displays will fit though. The square-ish CS3 is unlikely to suit some of the wackier TV stands now available.
Tipping the scales at 11kg, the CS3 is a substantial enclosure, albeit one unlikely to win many beauty pageants. The finish is a dull matt black and the only design flourish the SpeakerCraft badge on the magnetic grille. It can take a considerable amount of weight, though - a 55in screen will not present a problem. Audio inputs comprise coaxial and digital optical, plus a pair of stereo phonos. A Bluetooth receiver is also integrated, should you want to stream tunes direct from an enabled smartphone. The speaker also comes with a remote control.
The CS3 doesn’t offer any kind of video display, just a red/button power illumination LED partially obscured behind the speaker fabric. In use this can be problematic, as there’s no way of gauging what your volume level you’re at.
Setup is simply a matter of running a digital optical from your TV to the box. Most screens allow you to deselect the internal speakers in preference for an external audio solution, in the main menu settings. If your partnered TV does not allow for that, then the volume on the screen itself needs to be zero’d. It’s worth noting, though, that the enclosure does not have any Dolby Digital decoding onboard. While this won’t present problems when using Freeview channels as a source, any DD bitstreams routed into the set and then passed through to the CS3, be they from a Sky+HD box or Blu-ray player, will result in nothing but deathly silence. All source components need to deliver PCM stereo to be heard.
The CS3 isn’t short of muscle. Rated at 20W into all four channels (at 4ohms), it can thump with a ferocity that’ll terrify the average slimline panel. Sonically, it’s a full-range speaker with a rich, well-rounded delivery. We measured it down to 32Hz, but it saves most of its energy for 100Hz. Mid-range delivery is tight and crisp, keeping dialogue intelligible. Overall bass output is considerable, so much so that you might even consider ramping it back; bass and treble trim and boost are available, along with an EQ Reset, on the remote control.
Although well-defined, inevitably the stereo soundstage is somewhat narrow. There’s a DSP Surround mode which spreads things out, but this isn’t actually that much fun to listen to. The CS3’s Bluetooth audio performance offers functionality rather than fidelity. There’s no apparent support for aptX, but your tunes will certainly enjoy the up-front presentation.
If you’re looking for a serious audio upgrade for you TV, then SpeakerCraft’s CS3 is well worth tracking down. While undeniably expensive for what’s on offer, it offers a more traditional hi-fi sound than it’s nearest rival, the Sonos Playbar. It’ll be interesting to see how this offering compares to incoming models such as the Denon DHT-T100 and Onkyo LS-T10 which adopt a similar design approach. Overall, the CS3 sounds great with movies, general TV and as a single-enclosure audio speaker, and when it comes to Bluetooth streaming, few docks can hold a candle to it.
Price: £600 Approx
Highs: Powerful, full-range presentation, sturdy pedestal design, Bluetooth streaming
Lows: No Dolby Digital decoder; no status display; no aptX provision
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